What is a StingRay? What does the government do with the StingRay? Does the StingRay violate my Fourth Amendment Rights?

StingRay Device

The StingRay device is a cell site simulator used by government police entities, most notably the Federal Bureau of Invention (FBI), made by the Harris Corporation. A StingRay emits a radio signal which goes through the walls of a building and activates a cell phone inside the building. The cell phone thinks its communicating with a cell phone tower, which reveals to law enforcement the phone number, the serial number, and precise location of the phone. Many pundits suggest the device also allows the government to see whats on the phone, including emails, texts, pics and videos.

Government Use

The governmental use of the StingRay is somewhat unknown to the public because the federal government forces local government to agree not to discuss or testify to the use of the StingRay. Cases are often suppressed as a result of the government agent refusing to answer questions on the stand in regards to the depth and breath of StingRay usage. The public is not informed as to what is actually happening with StingRay devices in their own communities.

In some cases, the issue of how the initial stop and arrest was made are very unclear. If your discovery does not show how you were picked up on the day in question or how you were ever identified by the police, your lawyer should simply ask something like, “how did you know who to arrest? what lead you to my client when you arrested her?” These types of questions will allow you to know if there was a StingRay. If the witness refuses to answer, you know there was a cell site simulator used and you can ask your Motion to Suppress be granted. If the witness answers that a cell site simulator was used, you can ask the Motion to Suppress be granted because there is a discovery violation, unless they told you about the StingRay in advance. If the government told you about the StingRay in discovery, your lawyer should request additional discovery on all of the policies and procedures for use of the device within the jurisdiction.

Fourth Amendment Concerns

StingRay warrants are a new issue. In many jurisdictions, governments are not using warrants at all or are using the jurisdiction’s wiretap laws to get around the warrant requirement of the United States Constitution.

However, in Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001), the Supreme Court of United States held a warrant is required for a thermal imaging device to be used to sense heat patterns in buildings to locate suspects.  The use of the thermal imaging device is almost identical to the StingRay becasue there is an intrusion into the home by a government actor, where the intrusion is not in plain view, so we can glean that the warrant requirement applies to the StingRay and other cell simulators.

Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.